Although trumpeter and bandleader Al Natale never called himself a jazz musician, I would be remiss if I did not remember him in this jazzy blog. Al was a generous man who liked to help people, and he helped me when I was writing The Boston Jazz Chronicles. But Natale, who died on April 28, 2020 at age 96, did play a noteworthy role at one of Boston’s famous bygone clubs, Paul’s Mall. He led that club’s first house band. Al Natale was the original Penthouse Tenant in 1964.
It took him a while to work his way to the penthouse. Natale started with music as a kid, playing bugle, then trumpet, in the band at St Anthony’s School in the North End. His dad was a weekend musician, and he helped Al with reading and ear training. In the mid 1930s, Al advanced to dance bands, then a theater pit band, while in high school. His teacher was Ralph Fuccillo, the lead trumpet in the RKO Boston Theatre orchestra. Al told me, “Ralph got me on the band. I was a good reader, and that’s what you needed to be to work all the different shows. Larry Flint was the conductor, and he’d recommend me as a substitute when visiting bands needed a trumpet player. I worked with Bobby Sherwood, Freddie Slack, Charlie Spivak…That’s how I came to join Bob Chester’s band.”
On the Road with Bob Chester
Chester was in Philadelphia when he called Natale with a job offer. Natale hung up the phone and raced to Philadelphia, joining the band at the Earle Theatre. Thus began his life as a big band road warrior. “I’m all of 17 or 18, a kid from the North End never much farther from home than Scollay Square, and here I am, working at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City opposite Harry James. Fabulous.” Chester’s was a talented band, and Al worked alongside drummer Irv Kluger, saxophonist John LaPorta, and the extraordinary trombonist Bill Harris.
We’re all spending a lot of time relaxing in our apartments in this sad corona spring. Too much time, you say? Well, 50 years ago, there was a nightclub called the My Apartment Lounge in Boston that you might have left only with reluctance. It was in the Hotel Vendome, on Commonwealth Avenue at Dartmouth Street, and like everything else on this blog, it comes with a history.
Start with the hotel itself. If ever a building belonged on Comm Ave in the Back Bay, it’s the elegant Vendome, among Boston’s finest examples of Renaissance Revival architecture. The Vendome defined luxury in late 19th century Boston. It was the first public building to install electric lights. There was steam heat in every room if the fireplaces weren’t enough to warm the guests. Two sitting U.S. presidents stayed there, as did luminaries in every field.
There is a darker chapter to the Vendome’s history, too. The hotel fell on hard times, suffered a few suspicious fires, and finally closed in 1970. New owners began a condo conversion the next year. And then tragedy: on June 17, 1972, nine Boston firefighters died fighting a horrific four-alarm fire.
In January 1949, when Boston’s modern jazz pot was beginning to boil, the most popular jazzman in the clubs represented a different camp entirely. It was a Sidney Bechet disciple named Bob Wilber. Saxophonist and clarinetist Wilber, who died August 4, 2019 at age 91, was a frequent visitor to the Hub between late 1947 and late 1951. Those were critical years for Wilber, learning years, and he treated Boston’s Savoy Cafe as his personal woodshed. In 1949, Wilber was a near-constant presence at the Savoy, at a time when state law said he wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer there.
Bob Wilber studied intensively with Sidney Bechet in 1946-47, living in his home and recording with him. Then Sidney sent his pupil to Steve Connolly’s Savoy Cafe, where Bechet himself played a triumphant engagement in 1945. Wilber’s trio opened in November 1947. His high-school pal Dick Wellstood was on piano and the venerable Kaiser Marshall, himself a former Bostonian, played drums.
Wilber toured France in summer 1948 with Mezz Mezzrow, a trip that included an appearance at the Nice International Jazz Festival. In October he was back at the Savoy, with his best-known 1940s band: Henry Goodwin, trumpet; Jimmy Archey, trombone; Dick Wellstood, piano; Pops Foster, bass; and Tommy Benford, drums. This band packed the Savoy nightly. Connolly tore up their contract and announced they were staying indefinitely.
There was excitement in the air on Boylston Street on the night of April 14, 1967. The sign outside the Jazz Workshop announced, “Live Recording Tonite!” Inside, the crew from Impulse Records was setting up to record the Gabor Szabo Quintet. Cables snaked out the door to a van parked out front, where producer Bob Thiele sat at the mixing board. If all went well, the session would produce guitarist Gabor Szabo’s first live recording, and his fourth album for Impulse in two years.
Gabor Szabo grew up in Budapest, where as a boy he heard the gypsies play. He saw Roy Rogers in a movie and knew he wanted to be a guitar player, but he forgot about cowboys when he heard jazz on the Voice of America. He fled Communist Hungary in 1956 as a refugee.
Szabo first settled in Los Angeles, coming east in 1958 to study at Berklee, one of its earliest international students. He studied guitar with Chet Kruley and arranging with Herb Pomeroy. The international contingent during Gabor’s two years at Berklee included pianists Toshiko Akiyoshi and Dizzy Sal, trombonist Mike Gibbs, drummer Petar Spassov, and arranger Arif Mardin.
Tony Mauriello might not be known in the local jazz community today, but for 25 years, he was an influential player on the Boston entertainment scene. His most noteworthy gig? For twelve years he co-owned the fabled Back Bay nightclubs Paul’s Mall and the Jazz Workshop with Fred Taylor. Mauriello died a year ago, away from the public eye, on December 14, 2017. I missed it, and thus I’m a year late with this remembrance. As they say, better late than never.
Tony Mauriello’s early experience was in corporate accounting, but when he turned 30 he decided to chase a dream. He bought a struggling nightclub on Harvard Avenue in Allston called Luke & Rennie’s in 1960 (the Wonder Bar occupies the building in 2018). He renamed it the Starlight Lounge, and began offering live entertainment seven nights a week. The Starlight quickly moved into mainstream jazz (Sir Charles Thompson, Joe Bucci) and R&B/soul (Ben E. King, Bobby Hebb). That’s when Mauriello met Fred Taylor, who at that time was an artists’ manager and booking agent. The two became good friends.
Tony Mauriello also managed the Forum in Kenmore Square in the mid-sixties, which had the distinction of being Boston’s first discotheque.
Something different on Troy Street this time—a jazz history guest post by Mark Harvey, Boston’s resident trumpeter, composer, teacher, leader of the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, and all-around Jazz Hero. Mark mentioned to me that he had spoken with Claudio Roditi for the first time in some years, and that brought to mind the Harvey-Roditi Allstars, the band the two co-led in the mid 1970s.
Mark wrote the first version of this piece a a few years ago, and I asked if we could revive it here. He kindly agreed, so thank you to him, and here’s the story of the Harvey-Roditi Allstars in Mark’s own words.
On April 6, Steve Provizer posted a long list of Boston jazz venues, past and present, on his Brilliant Corners blog. These were jazz places remembered by Steve and his Facebook readers. He started compiling the list when Ryles Jazz Club announced it was closing—follow the link to see what he’s got.
His list got me interested in the topic of Boston jazz venues come and gone, so I dived into my database to see if I could add anything to the list. Did I ever! Between us we have about 200 entries.
Back in the day—no, even before that—there was a rowdy saloon on the corner of Stuart and Tremont streets, in Boston’s Theatre District, called the Knickerbocker Cafe. This was in the early 1950s, and the Knickerbocker was a favorite of the hordes of sailors from the Navy Yard who flooded the Theatre District nightly. They liked it because the club had a great house band, Fat Man Robinson’s quintet (later expanded to sextet), and one of its stars was the tenor saxophonist Andy McGhee.
McGhee, who died October 12, 2017 at age 89, came to Boston in 1945 to attend the New England Conservatory. He studied with Sam Marcus, a saxophonist and dance band leader, and later the president of AFM Local 9. McGhee graduated from the NEC Diploma Program in 1949. The comment accompanying his photo in his senior class yearbook read, “Will be on the road and with a first-rate band before you know it!”
The adventurous guitarist and composer John Abercrombie couldn’t get enough of the organ trio. He had a lifelong love affair with them, starting in Boston in 1967, and he had trio dates scheduled at the time of his death on August 22, 2017. This post surveys those Boston beginnings and his ongoing enthusiasm for the jazz organ.
Boston was where Abercrombie soaked up influences and interests that stayed with him for decades. He spent eight formative years there, from 1962 to 1970, and his attraction to organ trios took hold then. He took his first steps on the national stage in one in 1967.
Pianist Hal Galper was a busy guy in Boston in 1962. Much of that activity centered around the Stable, the cellar club on Huntington Avenue, where Galper practiced his craft almost every night. Tuesdays and Thursdays, he played with Herb Pomeroy’s big band, while on weekends he worked with Varty Haroutunian’s small groups. On Mondays, he was a regular in trombonist Gene DiStasio’s Quintet, and their music is the subject of today’s post.
In April 1962, everyone knew the Stable had a date with the wrecking ball. The Commonwealth was razing the building to make way for a turnpike on-ramp. The musicians played on, though, and one Monday night, an unknown person captured DiStasio’s Quintet on tape. That recording ended up with Ray Santisi, and is now the fourth installment in my Santisi tapes project. It was Hal Galper, by the way, who replaced Santisi in the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra in 1959.